Recycling industry records increased figures for fatalities

The waste and recycling industry does a vital job that benefits society but it can be a dangerous business with a human cost. Fatalities are up, and the industry needs to take action.

Between April 2012 and January 2013, 14 people have been killed in incidents related to waste and recycling, the majority of which involved vehicles and machinery. Of these 14 fatalities, 10 were industry workers (double the number of workers who died in 2011-12) and four were members of the public. The first nine deaths occurred in summer, with the remaining five deaths having taken place since then.

The waste sector’s performance in health and safety related matters is poorer than that of other industries and, in order to prevent the tragic toll from becoming greater, the industry must “pick up the gauntlet”, says Health and Safety Executive Inspector Wayne Williams, and improve. The industry needs to “demonstrate that they are taking [the situation] seriously” to ensure a fall in work-related injuries and deaths.

Of the deaths of members of the public, three were people found sleeping in waste containers. Guidance issued by the HSE in 2010 (“People in commercial waste containers”) may have contributed to the prevention of this type of death following its publication, but clearly, greater vigilance is needed. Lives could be saved if collectors simply check for people sheltering in the top of commercial waste containers.

On the positive side, the number of incidents is generally decreasing, according to Williams – but he wants to see a “dramatic and sustainable” reduction in incidents within the industry, whose nature means that it will always be a high priority for inspections.

The HSE is teaming up with WISH (Waste Industry Safety and Health), a panel of industry experts, to hold an invitation-only summit in February to address the problem. But it is clear from the effect of the HSE’s guidance on avoiding waste container fatalities that training and good practice goes a long way towards preventing injury and death.

Recycling Lives believes that a fully integrated Health and Safety training programme is essential to creating and maintaining a safe working environment, as well as ensuring high staff morale and improving productivity. As a social business with a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, we ensure that our operatives undertake training so that they can do their jobs effectively and safely; our comprehensive range of courses includes manual handling and safety awareness, first aid, plant and machinery operation, and how to drive a fork lift truck. Training is provided on site, in purpose built areas, by Recycling Lives’ own award winning training department – which external organisations can also book to deliver accredited courses.

Through its social welfare charity, which supports homeless individuals to access accommodation, training and employment, Recycling Lives also understands the plight of people who might seek shelter in waste containers. It is important for us to protect both the public and the members of our workforce. We take Mr Williams’ call to action seriously, and ask that other organisations within the industry join us in preventing deaths.